RPG Product Review: Taverns, Inns, and Shops

City Sites: Taverns, Inns, and Shops. We all need them in our RPG games. In the review I am doing today I will take a look at the options from three companies: Fantasy City Sites and Scenes designed by Philip Reed. Remarkable Shops and Remarkable Inns by LoreSmyth. And The Book of Taverns, Volumes 1-3 by Necromancer Games.

First up is is Philip Reed’s Fantasy City Sites and Scenes books. There are currently two, but a third was successfully kickstarted recently and I should have it in a few months. I really love this series that Reed does and will admit that they are my favorite of the three product lines that I will be reviewing here. What is there to like?

Each site is displayed on a two facing pages (see below). You usually get a picture of an NPC or an important object, and a picture of the establishment. The artwork is very good (I especially love the buildings). Tying all the pictures together is background text and adventure hooks. It is just what you need to run the site. You could even run some of these on the fly, and to have everything on two facing pages makes it very easy to use. Some of the locations and the people are tied together across the two books (and presumably the upcoming third). Thus, you could plan some of this ahead of time to construct a larger subplot in towns, city neighborhoods, and districts. Of course, you can ignore the tie-ins if you prefer, and I have in some instances, since I have taken some of the locations described in these two books and spread them across three towns in one campaign, and others are being placed in separate campaign I run. Still, if you want to build up a network of related characters Reed gives that option to you.

At the end of each book is a chapter called “City Scenes” which is broken down into “Daytime Scenes” and “Nightime Scenes.” There are 20 options for each and they each get a generous sized paragraph. This gives the GM the option to randomly roll or specifically choose a scene if players wander down a particular street or alley. These add a lot of character to a street scene as characters walk through a town, and within some paragraphs you can roll another die to change the details up some more, so these scenes are reusable.

The material is all system neutral, so regardless of what fantasy RPG you run you’ve got something that will work for it. The character art sometimes leans towards a D&D 5E feel, but not overly so. This is a versatile game product. The paper stock is also sturdy, so the book will last. I am also very happy to support Reed’s products on Kickstarter, since (so far) he delivers the PDF as soon as the Kickstarter ends and delivers the physical product on time (or early) within a month or two. Finding a person who delivers a Kickstarter on time is rare (in my experience), so when you find someone who does, and it is of such high quality, I will give them my future support.

Next is LoreSmyth’s Ultimate Guide to Remarkable Inns & their Drinks and Remarkable Shops. These books are broken down into two areas, the first half of the books are examples of Inns or Shops, each example usually gets 4 pages dedicated to it. Each establishment begins with a chart breaking down wealth, prices, security, authority, rooms, services, talent, disposition. It’s a nice quick reference for those GMs looking for a place within a particular price range or service. The next couple of pages describe the details of the place, along with the race/class of the staff and notable patrons. An example menu or chart is then provided giving the GM items with some unique character to use to help the place stand out. You have a lot to work with here. However, although largely system-neutral, these example establishments have a strong D&D 5E focus and feel to them. So if you have a 5E-ish exotic high-fantasy world with tieflings, aasimar, dragonborn, genasi, etc. then this will give you a lot of new material to work with. On the other hand, if you prefer mysterious and enigmatic creatures to remain mysterious, enigmatic, and rare in your campaigns, then you might struggle with some of these example institutions. I am in the latter category, and although I can swap out some of these NPCs for something else, in some cases I’ve decided it won’t be worth the effort. When it comes to these sections of the books I think I may only be able to use about 1/3 of the shops/inns listed (whereas with the Philip Reed books, they are broader in scope and I can use 90% or more of his material in my campaigns).

But there is still the last half of these books to consider. These sections have titles like: “Bring Your Inns/Shops To Life” and “Creating Your Own Inn/Shop.” These sections are filled with lists, charts, and descriptive text, to help you work out the dispositions of shopkeepers, their security measures, wealth & prices, services, work & training, custom items, sample floor plans, etc. There is an amazing amount of material here to create your own shops and inns (sample picture below). This is where the strength of these two products lie. This material is more system neutral then the examples in the first half of the books and can be dropped into more fantasy RPG settings.

Since these two books are roughly 100 pages each, that means you will get 50 pages of example shops and inns, and 50 pages of how to create your own. On the LoreSmyth website the PDFs go for around $15, softcovers $25, and both for $35. For D&D 5E and Pathfinder GMs this is quite worthwhile, for those that run old school games the price does does pose possible issues if you want PDFs and a softcover, since some of the sample inns/shops may not be useable. You will just have to decide how much 50 pages of tables/ charts/ descriptive text is worth to you. I supported three more LoreSmyth kickstarters recently (Remarkable Cults, Wondrous Expeditions – Forest, and Heroic Challenges Roleplaying Cards), and the cards have been great fun to use (I will review those another time), but I do wonder about future books in this series, since so far it seems I will only use about 60% of the content in them, and since there are other companies out there that do this sort of thing that are more in my mindset of medieval low fantasy, I think I might be better to focus on them.

Finally, we arrive at Necromancer Games and the Book of Taverns series. There have been three volumes completed so far. Each softcover is 20 pages with two taverns, so you are getting 10 pages dedicated to each tavern. They are pitched as system neutral. The strength of these is for those that want a fully detailed tavern. Each tavern has roughly two pages of background, two pages of NPCs, a full page menu, and five pages of floor plans with each room getting a paragraph description. If you have not detailed an area in your campaign and are happy to have a fully detailed tavern with backstory and accompanying NPCs, this will give it to you.

However, these are very niche taverns. If you buy volume 1 and don’t want a Greek-themed tavern based around philosophical debates, or a dive bar located on the docks, then this probably won’t interest you. You will want to look at the contents of each volume ahead of time to see if it will work in your campaign.

Since there is so much developed for each tavern, it does give me a lot to work with, and if I don’t want to use it all I can obviously leave some of it out and re-write portions of it. Of the six taverns designed for these three volumes, I think I might use four of them, but it will require more effort on my part to bring them into my campaigns, and I will, in turn, probably want to build campaign-specific subplots around the ideas within to get the most out of the effort.

So, those are the three different product lines I wanted to look at for this post. I hope you found something useful in my review. Best of luck to you all in your design of taverns, inns, and shops!